Friday, April 15, 2011

About a Life: What the scrapbooks have to offer

So far, this much I know:  Dorothy "Chrissie" Gundelach S----- was born In St. Louis, Missouri on October 2, 1909 and lived to be 71.  Daughter of Marguerite and William, Dorothy died at 7:00 am on June 71, 1981 after an 18 month struggle with colon cancer.  Her husband, Helmuth ("Fred") is listed as informant on her death certificate.

The scrapbooks and photo albums Dorothy kept offer still other details about her life and things, I presume, that were important to her--at least important enough to save, annotate, document.  The scrapbook covering the period of time between March 1956-August 1958 contains two newspaper cuttings about her mother's death in May of 1956.  The clipping here details her mother's estate and what Dorothy, Helmuth and the Home of the Friendless would inherit.  From the other clipping, one learns that Dorothy's father was a physician and that he passed away in 1935.

Here is a sampling of some of the other things I learned about Dorothy's life based on what I found she had saved and/or written about in her scrapbooks and photo albums:

Places to call home

From January 14th-February 24th of 1950, Dorothy and Fred lived at the Hotel Truman in Mannheim, Germany.  My assumption is that Fred's involvement with the military had them stationed there during this time.

The couple also lived in Evanston, Illinois (interestingly, Evanston is very close to where I grew up and spent most of my life).  On August 31, 1956, the couple moved into a second floor unit in this building. Also offered here is a view from their bedroom window taken in early fall of 1956.   

 Not surprisingly, also documented here was the house that Dorothy and Fred would live in for the rest of their lives.  Dorothy includes here, among other things, a clipping from the December 1st, 1957 edition of the Baltimore American that details the sale of the house to the couple.

Dorothy often included in the scrapbooks and photo albums pictures taken from windows in the various places she and Helmuth (almost always referred to by his middle name, Fred) lived.  It's not uncommon to find images marked "view from our bedroom," "view of our lake," "view from the front room."  Other common types of images included here are pictures of made-up but otherwise empty rooms (meaning images that contained furniture, clocks, flowers, but not people), images of Christmas trees and gifts, and images of tables made up for dinner parties, as we see below.

Also included were handwritten documents, like this one.  This appears to be a seating arrangements for a breakfast gathering:

And this:  A hand-drawn map and notes about a trip--one Dorothy describes as "very upsetting"--taken on December 27th. 
Teeth, booby traps, furs, feet, seeds, and bank deposits
My favorite items in the scrapbooks are those me as oddities. Things that leave me wondering why they were included at all.  For instance:

From this we learn that Dorothy had extracted at 10:00 am on Thursday July 13 her number 14th tooth.  A process that apparently went swimmingly well. 
And then there was this mysterious, handwritten gem--a plan for garage booby traps.  Needless to say, I'm still hoping to run across or find a way to piece together the backstory on this one.

An equally odd and puzzling find was this:  A business card from Herbert Cox Correct Shoes in Baltimore.  Above and to the side of the card, Dorothy has written:  "Bought first day I shopped for new mink jacket.  Met Fred for lunch wearing monsters."  Huh?  
A good number of the pictures contained in the photo albums and scrapbooks provide evidence of the time and care the couple devoted to landscaping, lawn care and gardening matters.  Whether it's a photo of Fred cutting limbs from a tree, "meticulously" planting his tulip garden, or various pictures of the immaculately-maintained lawn and flower beds they couple tended to, it was clear that they were highly invested in how the exterior of their home looked.  It was little surprise, then, to find pages in some of Dorothy's scrapbooks devoted to seed packets and gardening plans:

One of the most plentiful items found in the scrapbooks were cards--Not just business cards, like the one from Herbert Cox Correct Shoes, but birthday cards, Easter, Valentine's day and Anniversary cards. Gift cards were also often included.  In addition to documenting what other people gave the couple, Dorothy often included details of what the couple gave and/or received from each other or purchased for other people:

 Needless to say, some gifts were very, very good--like this gift to Fred from Mousie:

Still other evidence of the life she lived

Dorothy's trip diaries prepared me for how seriously she took the task of documenting, not only where she and Fred traveled, but how they got there, what they did--and perhaps most importantly--what they spent at each stop along the way.  In this way, I was not surprised to encounter the itemized lists and bills also contained in the scrapbooks.  For instance:

From the scrapbooks, I also learned that Dorothy attended Mary Institute in St. Louis.  Included here is an image of her history teacher and another newspaper clipping above which Dorothy has written:  "Girls I knew at M.I." 
Dorothy's death certificate would list her occupation as self-employed.  I'm not sure if she was ever paid for the contributions she made to either the Keswick Home for Incurables of Baltimore or to the English Speaking Union (an organization whose aim, at least according to one program document, was "to draw together in the bond of comradeship the English-Speaking Peoples of the World") but the letter below, dated September 29, 1967 (notice that Dorothy received it on her birthday) congratulates her on the "magnificent" job she did producing Keswick's new patient information booklet.  As an aside:  While the scrapbooks I've gone through thus far contain a number of texts that talk about the fine job Dorothy did with the booklet, I've not yet come across a copy of the actual booklet.  This is something I would love to find and read.

As for Dorothy's contributions to the English Speaking Union, one of the pamphlets I found credits her with being in charge of the invitations for the event.  I feature below an image of the cover of a pamphlet from a 1961 event hosted by the ESU.  I do this, in part, as a way of reminding myself to keep an eye out for other references to and/or images of Else, Joey and Ethel.  I also wanted to include it here because the theme strikes me as odd, given the Union's mission.

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